Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, one of the biggest and most popular stars in hip-hop, is the charismatic driving force behind "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," a hard-hitting drama directed by six-time Oscar® nominee Jim Sheridan about an orphaned street kid who makes his mark in the drug trade but finally dares to leave the violence behind and become the rap artist he was meant to be.
In this drama enriched by parallels to Jackson's own life, Marcus (Jackson) has always known he was going to be a rapper, but when his mother is murdered, he turns to dealing - hustling drugs pays the rent. Only his grandmother (Viola Davis), girlfriend Charlene (Joy Bryant), and violent-but-loyal friend Bama (Terrence Howard) keep him grounded as his world spirals out of control. As Marcus applies the same manic intensity to his writing as he does to dealing, he finds that writing down his words helps him to stay sane. For years, he endures this living hell until a tragedy that nearly kills him forces Marcus to change his life.
ABOUT THE STORY
"I guess you could say that 'Get Rich or Die Tryin'' is a collage of my life," offers Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, the hip-hop star who makes his motion picture debut in the new film from Paramount Pictures. "It's not so much my life story, as it is a story that has incidents similar to some that happened in my life."
One of the biggest stars in hip-hop, 50 Cent burst on the scene with his debut album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," which set the mark for the all-time best debut with 900,000 units sold in its first week. The album went on to be certified six times platinum. With his 2005 follow up, "The Massacre," 50 Cent became the first artist to have four songs in the top ten of Billboard's Hot 100 since the Beatles in 1964. The album debuted at No. 1 and has sold more than 4 million units to date.
Director Jim Sheridan has long been a fan of rap and the culture surrounding it. "I thought that a story that mirrors elements of 50's life had enormous dramatic potential," says the six-time Academy Award® nominee. "It's pretty powerful and interesting material to put on film. I'd seen 50 in videos and thought he had a great presence, but when we met, I knew after half an hour with him that I wanted to make a film with him. He's tremendously talented, focused, and disciplined, but he's also a very funny, charming person. And, because he knows he's lucky to be alive, he's a joy to be around. He's totally committed to the story we're trying to tell."
Since his meteoric rise to music super-stardom, Jackson has entertained numerous film pitches but none of them felt right until now. "It wasn't so much that I was waiting for a starring vehicle as I was waiting for the right project with the right people," he explains. The opportunity to make his motion picture debut under a director the stature of Jim Sheridan sealed his decision to star in "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." "I couldn't pick a better director to work with for the very first time," says Jackson. "Jim is a real actor's director and absolutely the best person for me to begin a new endeavor with. I try to stay as close as possible to the best - Eminem and Dr. Dre for music production, and now, Jim Sheridan for the film. You know me," he laughs, "I try to start at the top and stay there. The fight is fixed and I'm gonna win."
"When we have a new, young actor like 50, who better to have than Jim Sheridan to work with him?" asks producer Jimmy Iovine, who also serves as chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records. "We knew Jim would be able to hone in on the rawness of 50's acting and his abilities."
As for Sheridan, he was very enthusiastic about doing a film about rap culture. Aside from his long-time interest in rap music, he "suspected that the rap world was closer in structure to film than any other form of music because of its narrative underpinning."
Iovine says that Sheridan's skill as a director of films in which characters face enormous challenges - including illness, poverty, and racial bigotry - make him the perfect choice. "This movie is more about the 'why,'" says Iovine. "Why there are more single mothers in the African-American community than any other in America? Why is rap music the way it is? Why was Marcus forced to do what he had to do?"
"Jim gets it," says Lighty. "He understands that community. The struggle in Jamaica, Queens or the Bronx is not much different than Jim's own struggle as a youth in some of the tougher districts of Dublin. We're just different colors; it's the same struggle of trouble, despair, and violence."
The film started coming together when Iovine and Shady Records' Paul Rosenberg signed 50 Cent to their label. As producers of some of the most successful music acts in the business, as well as the very successful Eminem vehicle "8 Mile," they were instantly struck by Jackson's "charisma and vibe" (in Iovine's words) and decided they should try to make a movie with him. With Jackson's manager, Chris Lighty, the producers hired Terence Winter to begin writing a screenplay.
The choice of Winter, a two-time Emmy winner for "The Sopranos," was obvious. "We felt there were many similar parallels between the Italian gangster world and the urban gangsta culture," says Iovine. "They share a language."
Winter travelled with Jackson on his Rock the Mic Tour, and talked to him every day for two months. The result was a gritty dramatic screenplay about a young black man's survival in a world of violence and despair, with parallels to Jackson's life.
Since "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" is Jackson's entrée into Hollywood, "we wanted him to work with the best," says Lighty. With that in mind, the producers looked to director Jim Sheridan, whose friend Bono had earlier maneuvered a meeting between Sheridan and producer Jimmy Iovine.
Sheridan responded immediately to themes of Jackson's life story. "I've been telling family stories; what fascinated me about this story was the search for the father," says Sheridan, whose other stories about families include "In America," "In the Name of the Father" and "My Left Foot." "I thought that was a great starting off point for a film."
"The film's title says it all: It's about trying to excel and getting out of the 'hood by any means necessary without getting killed or ending up in jail," says Lighty. "I think every stock broker on Wall Street is living that life. Every American is trying to buy a Mercedes; we're all trying to get rich, or die tryin'. This is just 50's version of it."
ABOUT CURTIS "50 CENT" JACKSON
At the centre of "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" is Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, the charismatic and groundbreaking hip-hop artist.
Born and raised in Queens and coming of age in the drug scene of the late 1970s, the young, fatherless Curtis was forced into manhood at an early age when his mother became a casualty of the drug game. The rest of the story has become modern folklore: the quick and deliberate ascension as a dealer, the lengthy rap sheet, the long hours perfecting his rhyming craft, the recording deal, and the nine gunshot wounds that nearly took his life. Dropped by his label, Jackson was determined not to let his dream of being a rapper fade away. With the help of his friend Sha Money XL, Jackson released an independent bootleg. The CD caught the ear of Eminem and Dr. Dre, who signed the rapper to a million-dollar record deal in 2002. Hip-hop history was made.
Since then, Jackson has earned widespread acclaim and achieved fantastic success. Earlier this year, he became the first recording artist since the Beatles to have four songs in the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Indeed, Jackson's plunge into the drug trade started after his mother's death. He went to stay with his grandparents, who did what they could "to keep me in a great space," says Jackson. "But I didn't feel like I was where I should be at, so I turned to the people that appeared to have it all with no problem. They were people from my mother's life - from when she used to hustle. And they would look out for me, and do things for me," explains Jackson. "So that's how I got started. They were helping me to provide for myself."
The birth of Jackson's son probably saved his life. "I had him and my priorities changed," says Jackson. I had to think about how I would be able to provide for him. He's the reason I went towards music; I couldn't have helped him if I was locked up."
"He represents something fundamental coming out of black culture," observes Sheridan, who initially gained the star's confidence with his knowledge of rap music. "Historically in America," adds Sheridan, "we had two ways of coming out. One was the Martin Luther King method and one was the Malcolm X method. Both of those doors closed in the late '60s, and so the black culture kind of had nowhere to go until it found expression in the least likely place - commercial music."
"It allowed the kid that lived in Beverly Hills or Burbank to see what was going on in Crenshaw; the kid that lived on 125th Street to see what was going on with the kid that lived in Livingston, New Jersey," adds Lighty. "It was a safe way to see what was going on in the inner cities. It allowed minorities to express themselves - it was their form of expression."
"People buy my music for the same reason they buy the newspaper," says Jackson. "You know there isn't a lot of good in it, but it's the facts. And they want to know what happened."
In making his acting debut, Jackson handles the challenge with his characteristic confidence.
Still, Jackson notes that Jim Sheridan's advice and guiding hand eased the process: "Jim made sure I was exactly the way I needed to be in the scenes. It was great having someone there that you knew was in your corner."
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
The film's cast is rounded out with a collection of veteran actors and rising stars including Terrence Howard, Joy Bryant, Bill Duke, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Omar Benson Miller, Tory Kettles, Viola Davis, Marc John Jefferies, and Ashley Walters. All admit the project was intense, but, says Sheridan, "it was about trying to create an environment of trust, a family environment."
Joy Bryant plays Charlene, Marcus's childhood friend who returns to the city after being exiled by her parents to the suburbs.
"Even though Charlene's not a party girl, the fact that she comes from the 'hood means she's fully aware of what goes on. But she's not judgmental; to her, the situation is what it is," says Bryant.
"Charlene and Marcus share a bond," she says. "They were connected when they were young by a love for hip-hop - when they reconnect 10 years later, sparks fly."
Bryant agrees that it was the chance to work with Sheridan that attracted her to the film. "He has this amazing ability to bring truth to what he does, and emotion without being melodramatic or false."
"Joy's got a great class to her," says Sheridan. "We play her in the movie as a dancer. She has a classy, Audrey-Hepburn flair, but the fact is, she's as hood as anybody."
Terrence Howard calls Sheridan a "true genius" and jumped at the chance to work with him. Sheridan cast Howard as Bama, Marcus' friend, manager, and protector, after Sheridan saw the actor shine in last summer's critical and audience hit, "Hustle & Flow."
Howard says that Sheridan created an atmosphere of trust on the set - so much so that Howard made commitments that he'd never made before. "I've never even taken my shirt off in a movie before," he says. "For this movie, we were trying to do a scene with five guys in a prison shower. I said, 'Let's just do it naked.' I took off my pants and 50 says, 'Come on, come on, quick, call "Action" before he changes his mind!'
"Bama doesn't have any family," says Howard of his character, "and Marcus's only family is the street. That's what they find in each other; sometimes, your soul mate isn't of the opposite sex - it's a kindred spirit."
Like the rest of the cast, Howard was lured to the film by the chance to work with six-time Academy Award® nominee Jim Sheridan. "It's like watching Harry Houdini, a sorcerer at work," says the actor. "Working with him is an enlightening, enchanting experience."
"He has this exquisite talent for extracting the essence of relationships," says Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays Marcus' drug-dealing mentor, Majestic. Best known for his role as the gangsta Simon Adebisi on HBO's "Oz," Akinnuoye-Agbaje creates a menacing character who could be more than simply a father figure - he could be Marcus's biological father.
"Jim's an artist," adds Akinnuoye-Agbaje, "and 50's an entrepreneur of some magnitude. And they both have this quest to win. I think that unites them and makes them a formidable force."
Tory Kittles, Omar Benson Miller, and Ashley Walters co-star as Marcus's crew: Justice, Keryl, and Antwan, respectively. Veteran actor Bill Duke takes on the role of drug kingpin Levar and Tony Award-winning actress Viola Davis plays Marcus's Grandmother. Newcomer Serena Reeder plays Marcus' mother, Katrina.
"Young Marcus," says Sheridan, "is stunningly played" by Marc John Jefferies.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
When it comes to the film's soundtrack, Jackson makes clear that the film's plot drove the music and not the other way around. "This is a film first; then, we have music in it," he says. "I didn't want to make a movie that interrupted the plot for a music video. The music supports the plot."
When he was not in front of the camera, Jackson was out in the mobile recording studio, writing the songs for the film's soundtracks. "I had everything I needed in there," he enthuses, admitting that the studio had more bells and whistles than the one he uses at home. "I work with the bare necessities, so the mobile studio was great! I liked it better than my hotel room; in fact, I was probably there more than my hotel room," he says, only half-jokingly.
Jackson made the music as he moved through the film. "Once I had my direction, I knew where I wanted to go," he says, referring to his creative collaboration with Sheridan; "it just came together."
Jackson admits he's drew on the vulnerability of his character Marcus for his writing in this case and that it made him more willing to say things he wouldn't normally say. "I wrote the songs in character," he says. "I'm definitely more vulnerable as Marcus than I am as 50 Cent."
Jackson notes that the storytelling in these songs is markedly different from that in his other music. "It's a totally different process from making my other records," he says. "I had to make the music to complement the scenes in the film, but I couldn't write lyrics that will tip off the audience about what's to come."
Despite the difference in style, Jackson approached it as he would any new album. "And you know," he says with characteristic confidence, "I expect the soundtrack to debut at number one, just like my albums do."
"'Get Rich or Die Tryin'' is about the evolution of a kid who thinks he has no alternative but to go and stand on the corner and be an entrepreneur," says Sheridan. "And it's the change from that into being a rapper. Probably what you get on-screen, first impression, is what 50 is deep down: a hard, tough survivor. But I think that having survived what he's been through, he's also capable of playing with life, being playful, and living each moment as if it's his last."
"Even if you're not a hip-hop fan," says Iovine, " you should come see this movie because it's about a culture - it's about the drive of a child, the drive of a man, the drive of a community, of a nation."
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
To make the leap from rap star to movie star, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson had to relive and re-enact some of the most painful events of his life - the death of his mother, the danger and brutality of the drug trade, and the day he was shot nine times in front of his grandparents' house.
As Jackson re-enacted that traumatic event, his director was amazed by the first-time actor's ability to separate his own emotions from the character's actions. "He was lying on the ground in the rain for 2 hours while we set up the shot, made up with nine bullet wounds," says Sheridan, describing the scene, "and he doesn't move. I thought, 'This is an exceptional person.' Shooting the scene was probably, in a way, like therapy for him."
"It was freezing cold out the night that we shot the scene," recalls Jackson. "And they wet the streets down, so I was soaking wet, and laying in the middle of the street. It was crazy." Therapy or not, the actor calls it one of the most physically challenging scenes in the film.
While Jackson could easily play the tough guy, his biggest challenge was having to cry in front of the camera. "On screen, 50 can come across as the tough bad boy, but when he needs to show that sensitive streak he's just as believable. I think you'll see the struggle in his eyes, says Sheridan. "It's all in his eyes - the pain and the suffering that he's conjuring up from the past."
"I had to work on that long before I started filming," he admits, "because I hadn't cried in so long. In my neighborhood, crying in front of the wrong person could bring you all kinds of trouble because they'd think you were weak. So I spent a lifetime not crying over situations, but just pushing, moving forward."
What finally did bring the tears was "thinking about failing," he confesses. "I don't want to fail. I'm afraid of failure; that's why I work so hard."
"I'd say the danger for 50 Cent is that he works too hard," acknowledges Sheridan. "He never stops; he's a machine."
Production designer Mark Geraghty was charged with creating a world he never had before: the Bronx, circa 1970s. He found he could rely on his director for inspiration. "Jim is probably one of the best storytellers in the world," says Geraghty. "For him, it's all about the story. He's able to draw you into the era, the meaning of the film, the emotion of the film. And once you understand the story, and how Jim sees it, you understand the world he's in. When you finally sit down to design a set, you know the world and the characters inside out, because Jim has explained it all so well. He's absolutely inspirational."
Geraghty's intense research included movies, Internet, documentaries, and books. "Then, we created a world that suited our movie," says Geraghty. "It's a world based loosely on the South Bronx in New York. But it could be anywhere. It's the poverty, and the hardship, and the lawlessness that we wanted to create," he explains.
"A lot of the world of our film is decaying splendour," explains Geraghty. "At one time it would have been a beautiful world; but it's been neglected. So we're using decaying colors, and rust, and things that are falling apart, just like the society is, to show that things have been left untended."
The talented creative team also includes director of photography Declan Quinn, ASC, who previously collaborated with Jim Sheridan on "In America," editors Conrad Buff, A.C.E., and Roger Barton, and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck.
"Get Rich or Die Tryin'" was filmed on location in New York - where the majority of the exterior scenes were shot amidst the constant noise of the El Train on the streets of High Bridge in the Bronx, giving the scenes their gritty edge. The film's interiors were built and shot on a soundstage in Toronto.
READ AN INTERVIEW WITH JOY BRYANT
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Director/Producer JIM SHERIDAN'S
TERENCE WINTER (written by),
QUINCY JONES's (music score by)
GAVIN FRIDAY and MAURICE SEEZER (music score by